Leveraging 3D Printing to Combat the Fast Fashion Crisis


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When we consider the environmental issues afflicting our world, the role of the textile industry cannot be overlooked as one of the most detrimental contributors. The quick pace of shifting fashion trends, consistently emerging new collections, and escalating clothing consumption results in a colossal production globally. This phenomenon, popularly called ‘fast fashion’, leads to massive quantities of textiles being tossed out daily, and an increase in the continuous production of clothes. In response to this, environmental advocates, as well as emerging governmental regulations, are urging for a more efficient use of resources and sustainability in the worldwide textile value chain. Now, to mitigate the harmful cycle of discarding and purchasing new textiles, to advocate for local manufacturing and a circular economy, a group of research scholars from the University of Art and Design Linz have dedicated their efforts towards resolving this issue, harnessing innovative materials and techniques like 3D printing for creating clothes.

In their art-scientific project titled “Fashion and Robotics,” funded by the Austrian Science Fund (AWF), the researchers are designing new strategies for a more eco-friendly production of fashion. This project merges the development of organic fabrics grown in three dimensions from a nutrient solution, robots capable of mending holes in clothes, and AI to make factories more streamlined. The team’s research primarily centers around developing a completely novel approach to the production process using cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printing and new substances, rather than enhancing the traditional methods.

Innovative Clothing Production and Repair with 3D Printing

In the initial phase of the research project, the scientists fabricated a clothing item utilizing robots that employed 3D printing. In addition to this, the cross-disciplinary team innovated robotic arms capable of 3D cutting and stitching. Following this, they worked on electrospinning—a technology aimed to replace traditional “darning” with a novel, more sustainable process. As per Braumann, in this procedure, a polymer is discharged onto the tear in the clothing by a robotic arm in a high-voltage field. This forms nanofibers that latch onto the fabric.

The application of robotics in clothing repair exhibits exciting potential advantages. The automation process can shrink repair expenses to about $2, making mending more cost-effective than purchasing new items, thereby making repairs an appealing option once again. Moreover, these robots could be employed in large-scale factories, thereby promoting sustainable production. Factories can also utilize AI to investigate damaged clothing beforehand and identify areas that need repair. Apart from repair purposes, these technological advancements could be used for “3D redesign” in alteration shops, enhancing the lifecycle of clothes.

To bring about a sustainable transformation in fashion materials, the researchers joined hands with Werner Baumgartner to cultivate 3D trousers and 3D shoes. Throughout the process, unfelted biomaterials which are a recent development have replaced the typical cutting and stitching of textiles. These materials are cultured from bacteria and grow in a 3D format—for instance, with the help of shoe lasts, which can eventually be removed to retrieve the final shoe.

Christiane Luible-Bär, a lecturer at the University of Art and Design Linz who took part in the project, explains, “The robot is also important in this case, but in a new role, namely as a food provider. The bacteria need to be supplied with a nutrient solution regularly at specific times, and a machine can feed them more reliably than a human.”

Although the garments grown from bacterial cellulose are currently only the results of basic research experiments, they represent a step towards the one day realized application of the process. More information can be found HERE on the website of the Austrian Economic Fund.

What do you think of the research project to develop new, innovative repair and manufacturing processes for clothing, including using 3D printing? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

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